America Celebrates National Maritime Day

Image courtesy of the White House

Published May 22, 2018 10:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday, maritime organizations across America celebrated National Maritime Day, a time to remember those who have served at sea and a time to think of the industry's future. From coast to coast, port authorities, shipowners, regulators, unions and individual mariners took time to recognize the merchant marine's contributions to America's economy and security. 

In 1933, Congress dedicated May 22 as National Maritime Day to commemorate the American steam/sailing ship Savannah’s successful transatlantic voyage, the first of its kind using steam propulsion. The day has since evolved into an opportunity to recognize all American mariners, especially those who have given their lives for their country.

At the White House, President Donald J. Trump issued a proclamation for the national day of recognition, and he thanked America's mariners for their service. "On National Maritime Day, we recognize the critical role the United States Merchant Marine plays in bolstering national security and facilitating economic growth. We honor our merchant mariners for their contributions to connecting the States, supporting our military, and cementing ties among our allies," he said in a statement. 

In Washington, D.C., at the Department of Transportation headquarters, the Maritime Administration held a ceremony and a wreath-laying in honor of mariners past and present. 

"We're here today to take a few minutes out of our very busy lives to recognize the dedicated seafaring men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine, who have fueled the economy of the United States and helped defend her for more than 240 years - longer, in fact, than we have had armed forces," said Adm. Mark "Buzz" Buzby, the Maritime Administrator. "By serving our nation in peace and war, and by providing humanitarian assistance around the globe, they have carried on the unwritten diplomatic mission of the United States: to keep our country strong and to make the world a better place."

To commemorate this legacy of service, MARAD, the Department of Transportation and U.S. Transportation Command presented several distinguished mariners with commendations and awards. William E. Turnin was awarded multiple campaign medals for his service in the merchant marine, which spanned from the aftermath of WWII to the Gulf War. The Administrator’s Professional Ship Award was given to the training ships and U.S.-flag ships that supported relief efforts after the 2017 hurricane season, including the vessels SS Wright, TS Empire State, TS Kennedy, and TS General Rudder.

Agency leaders also used the ceremony to look ahead to initiatives that could boost the strength of the merchant marine. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao highlighted MSP 4.0, a review of the Maritime Security Program and its future direction. Kevin K. McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, discussed increased Jones Act enforcement efforts at CBP, including the deployment of the department's maritime surveillance tools and patrol assets to catch violations. And Gen. Darren W. McDew, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, stressed the importance of recapitalizing the aging Ready Reserve fleet.

"In 2020, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command will be the largest owner of steamships in the world. It's never a title I wanted to have. If we don't recapitalize, it will be in fact very true," he warned. "When I heard the age of the maritime academies' [50-year-old] training ships, I thought, 'I would take that age in our Ready Reserve fleet, because they're even older.'"

Gen. McDew pointed out that America's superpower status depends upon force projection, and that capability resides with the merchant marine. "I appreciate every single day the ships that sail for U.S. Transcom. They transit dangerous waters, they deliver critical cargo. Our adversaries really don't want them there, but our mariners go there anyways," he said. 

The ceremony closed with a wreathlaying ceremony and the ringing of eight bells for those who have crossed the final bar, along with an invocation for safe passage home from Sr. Joanna Okereke, the national director of the Apostleship for the Sea. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.